December 12, 2008, a regional ice storm knocked out power from thousands
of households across eastern MA and southern NH. Many homes were
without water, electricity, and heat for over a week.
was one of many MA communities to experience the full brunt
of the ice storm,
which uprooted trees and knocked down power lines, obstructing
roadways and exposing live electrical wires.
Some residents simply
needed a warm place to shower and enjoy meals during the day, returning
home to makeshift heating from wood stoves or generators at night.
However, many families were entirely displaced from their homes,
requiring a safe haven until their power was restored. Brutal temperatures
and multiple snowfalls created conditions that rendered their current
housing unsafe for vulnerable elders, as well as for those who were
need for sheltering became more urgent when a snow storm blanketed
the area days later. Sub-zero temperatures and slick roads made
it dangerous to remain in unheated homes, while- increasing
the risk of falls. The weather hampered the ability of highway
trucks (left) to clear the streets of debris and downed wires.
shelters were opened immediately in Westford and Lowell, with 'warming
centers' established in other UMV communities. Forty-five MRC members
filled 82 shifts around the clock to support continuous staffing
at the shelters. The MRC provided surge capacity while working seamlessly
with other responders: police, fire, Red Cross, CERT, emergency
management, elder services, and municipal agencies.
of the Westford fire and police departments worked with three
from the UMV MRC one morning at the Blanchard emergency shelter.
Lowell High School was
chosen as the site for sheltering the city's urban population, and
also accommodated those without power from neighboring Dracut. Operations
were transferred to the smaller Council on Aging facility on the
third and last day of service.
Westford opened its shelter
at the Blanchard School, caring for up to 37 residents during peak
hours. The Blanchard shelter remained open for six days. Both Lowell
and Westford shelters provided specialized cots and supplies for
those who needed additional care.
Blanchard shelter offered the cafeteria (above) for meals,
socializing, and rest for healthy families. The gym (below)
served as a dormitory for vulnerable elders and those with
special needs. Many residents in this group required cots
with extra cushions, and the ability to raise the head or
foot of the cot.
The UMV MRC ensured that
one medical and one non-medical member were on site at all times
in the Westford shelter. The unit provided volunteers as requested
Medical members provided
direct patient care. This required monitoring the overall health
of residents at the shelter, anticipating and preventing problems,
and taking action whenever issues arose. Medical conditions can
be aggravated when vulnerable people are under stress and their
schedules are disrupted, which was especially the case during the
upheaval of temporary lodging in the ice storm disaster.
residents benefited from subdued lights, softer cushioning,
and flexible cots.
assisted with registration of shelter visitors and staff, communication,
and other tasks as needed.
MRC volunteers provided administrative support and helped
to serve meals.
The UMV MRC was better
able to respond purely by having over 540 members with diverse skills.
This sheer number was essential, because members were enduring the
same power outages as everyone else in their community. MRC staff
needed to make more calls across a wider geographic area, to reach
volunteers who still had power and could deploy. Many were enlisted
from towns that suffered less impact from the storm.
Several communities in
nearby Region 4A hadn't lost power, so the UMV MRC was able to supplement
its response as needed through other units.
shift at the Lowell High School shelter shows the care of elderly
residents by MRC members from the Upper Merrimack Valley (left)
and Region 4A (right). Some communities southwest of the UMV
never lost power.
The call-out was further
complicated because municipal offices in Westford, including the
Health Department, had also lost power. Thus the Internet, e-mail,
Comcast cable and phone services were inaccessible. Our unit's preferred
deployment method -- sending an e-mail blast to hundreds of UMV
MRC members at once -- was therefore disabled.
of members didn't have phone service, and had no power to access
their answering machines or recharge cell phone batteries. The solution?
Armed with a printed copy of member contact data, MRC staff simply
kept calling down the list of members until the shifts for each
day were filled.
Some displaced residents
remained at the shelter for nearly a week, until it was safe to
move back to more permanent facilities. The last resident to leave
was eager for her return to a home environment.
ice storm was the subject of intense media coverage throughout
the week. News reporters interviewed the last local resident
to leave the Blanchard shelter, where she had received care
for six consecutive days.
The UMV MRC held a debriefing
session in early January and invited comments from shelter participants,
to include in the Westford Health Department's section of the town's
After Action Report.
volunteers met to share their experiences in a debriefing
for the town's After Action Report. They were also thanked
by the staff, received certificates of appreciation, and enjoyed
a festive cake in honor of their service.